Johnny’s Trippin’

When Johnny strikes up the band, Johnny strikes up the band” Warren Zevon.

Johnny is frankly a little dishevelled. His shirt is in his hands sheltering his beer, which he gulps at 9:00 am. Both bare chested and faced he barks at the “moon”. Cockeyed and hair askew. At times mumbling incoherently to himself, at others here and maybe not. Generally roaring at the gathered mass at Union Square. 

This square is a place for excellent people watching. Some sad- America should hang its head in shame for the treatment of their mentally ill and homeless citizens- but all colourful. I surreptitiously sidle up to Johnny. A distance of about a metre to avoid a stray arm and time to move fast “should the circumstances dictate”.

We are soon approached by two of San Fran’s “finest”. In the interests of accurate reporting, Johnny is. I just have to be sitting close.

“You doin’ ok man”  enquires the man in blue. His colleague stealthily readies a canister at the rear of his packed belt.

“Just fine officer. Thank you for keeping us all safe” Johnny very impressively responds

“Thanks, but it appears you’ve been trippin’. You been takin’ your meds?” They’ve been through this deal more than once.

“No, no man, I’m good. Just dealin’ with a tragic loss” Johnny smartly deflects.

The “pill street blues” mosey on.

Following this exchange I feel confident to make more personal contact. Johnny relishes it.

He advises that he is not in a good place. He can’t sleep nor stay at home. “My mind keeps goin’ and goin’. Can’t turn the fucker off”.  Seems his best friend has just overdosed…he points to his forearm and feigns a plunging syringe by way of explanation. The memorial is in two days. He openly discusses a respectful, very sad, service. I offer both condolences and best wishes.

We bond.

Johnny then provides a sweeping journey through his life. I’m impressed. 

He has played Rugby for the American youth team. He shows me the ugly scar across his clavicle as evidence. He even went to Australia and played and was “honoured” to have seen the Wallabies play The British Lions in Sydney. We discuss Aussie Rules and Australian women. He is cogent, entertaining, engaging and fun as we free wheel through life and views. Something about books and covers should go in here.

He outlines his personal manifesto: “I only stand for three things, freedom, guns and fucking”. As Meat Loaf was drawn to opine: “Two out of three ain’t bad”.

Now you can believe this or not, Johnny then turns , faces me eye to eye and enquires: “what do you think of Trump?”. Now it might have been the recent gesticulating and conversing with those not physically there, the visit from the police or the mention of guns, but I go all coy and just a little evasive from my normal self. My weasel words flow: “Seems to me you’re country has some significant challenges”.

This appears Johnny’s cue. He jumps to his feet (I remain seated so as to not inflame proceedings).

“I love him”

“About time we had one like him”

“Don’t give a fuck for anyone else. No Obama shit of helping other countries. About time we just looked after our own interests.”

“He looks after us

I enquire as to “us”.

Johnny is on a roll. He waves his hands expansively, face full of life, feet placed on the figurative soap box, voice approaching a roar.

“Us? White people. I don’t give a fuck for the blacks, yellow people, refugees, people who don’t like how they been born, other nations and people. Not one fuck”

Impressed by how definitively and energetically he has defined the presidents policies, I am drawn to ask a question I have asked repeatedly on this trip………….but only when he triumphantly returns to his seat.

Are you worried about being isolated from the rest of the world?”

This appears to have taken Johnny unawares. He pauses. He muses. He finally responds:

Naaaa. That’s his (the coiffured one I’m thinking) problem”

Johnny’s trippin’ again.


Oh god!

Puritanism, thanksgiving, religious right (an oxymoron?), born again (if at first you don’t succeed…), in god we trust (everyone else pays) on bank notes, god bless, evangelicals, “the bible says…” televangelists. Every country has its quirks, sometimes these can tip over into dangerous psychotic delusions. At 75% of Americans confessing as Christians (the highest in the world), there are bound to be some loose angels.

As if to reinforce my own mental health I’ve been taking to watching the weird phenomena that is American televangelists. Not too long though, just a few minutes at a time, or the life force is dragged surreptitiously, but steadily through every orifice. What a pantomime, what pomposity, what charlatans…… what a show.

I’m informed that in the dreadful Houston floods one of these guys has been outed for doing nothing…apart from praying. This dude has scammed a personal fortune of  $60 million based around principles of god rewarding the worthy and punishing everyone else: it’s called “prosperity gospel”. Otherwise known as some distorted post hoc rationalisation for doing fuck all to help the less fortunate (go ahead and repeal Obama Care you god fearing, self serving, heartless bastards).

My lift journey to the hotel room is abruptly interrupted. In step three women. I am immediately alert due to the sanctimonious look of converts searching for converts- eyes flashing, false smiles, sing song voices, self righteousness….dripping condescension. All the signs.

Oh sweet Joy. Surrounded, I retreat into the corner. Oxygen appears to be suddenly at a premium, I doubt the result of the lifts ascent.

The women appear to be over three generations of the one family. It’s hard to tell. The older two have a complementary affliction to that described: Their faces appear smoothed by a hot iron. A permanent look of surprise their countenance…sleeping must be a challenge as I doubt their eyes can close. Spare skin appearing to migrate to their necks and hands. 

The younger turns to the oldest and gushes: “you know I have been praying so hard for you every day”

The baby faced lizard turns, smiles (I doubt she can do otherwise) and in a sing song sickly voice of a child says: “oh darlin’ you know I just love it when you say that!!!”

I have been watching the little lights countdown the floors. It feels I am in an Einstein time space continuum, where air is sucked out and time sloooooows. Then “bing!”,  I am saved by the bell. I still have to navigate my way to open doors…. freedom…… sanity. As I leave, momma bear boldly looks me straight in the eye (I doubt she can do otherwise) and asks as if it is a normal thing to do: “are you a good man?”

As I dart for the freedom and sanctuary of the real world I reply in my strictest Aus accent: “I’m not a bad bloke”.

As if by way of explanation, one of the three archangels calls out: “I think he’s Australian!”

Too stupid to understand science………. try religion!


We have finally hit rock bottom

Farewell Seattle. A little underwhelmed. Maybe a product of limited grunge, time restrictions and the tail of the bastard bug.

A three hour trip on the ironically named Bolt Bus Line brings us to Portland. Trip was actually quite comfortable….and cheap for these grey nomads. Lovely to spend time with equally fiscally challenged outward bound travellers, all at least a couple of decades not in our favour ( with hair colours a mix of natural and the rainbow palette). A funky mix.

Seattle has about 704,000 residents and is the fastest growing major city in the US. At times it felt it. Portland has about 640,000 residents, but feels a lot smaller…more intimate (these numbers may be an apples and pears comparison). It has less high rise. A far better public transport system. Lot more small bars and restaurants, relaxed vibe….and Oregons growth appears to be in its beer. Breweries contribute $4.49 billion (yep) to the economy, with Seattle boasting over 50 micro breweries. This is an epidemic.

We walk down a long hill about 3 K’s from our bivouac to the downtown, soon after arriving. We search out a Brewery combined with pub grub. We are pointed in the direction of The Rock Bottom Brewery and are not disappointed.  What a treat. Good food and an excellent array of beverages. Deb has taken a shine to a flight of beers (6 glasses), whilst I settle on a few excellent cream Stouts. 

I take the public transport up the hill. Deb chooses to walk off the excess. I engage a couple from Missouri on the modern tram, they advise I could spend the night in jail because I failed to tag on. I express appreciation for the offer of free accomodation but have already booked a hotel. They smile and it seems they are heading to the same destination. Double bonus, witnesses to my innocent indiscretion (I am wearing my Innocent Bystanders Winery  t shirt from Ben and Zahra which proudly proclaims: Not Guilty on the back) as well as guides for the severely spatially challenged. No time to talk politics, unfortunately, although they share similar opinions to my initial impressions of Seattle V Portland.

Brewery tours, arts, scenery, food and history are planned.

I think we are going to like it here.


Vancouver claims a piece of Jimi- it seems everyone wanted a piece of him alive or dead. His grandparents lived there, he visited and he played gigs there. They have a shrine to honour him- one sided reflective glory.

Seattle has a much stronger claim. He was born here, learnt his craft here and played in several early bands in the Emerald City.

We head to The Museum of Popular Culture (MoPop), a bent and twisted building modelled on a broken guitar. Symbolic as it is a building dedicated to the ideas and risk taking that fuelled contemporary music. I have long wanted to attend and am not disappointed, save the unfortunate absence of grunge.

Seattle has punched well above its weight in music. The list of strong connections to the city is impressive (apart from the irreplaceable Jimi):

  • Ray Charles
  • Quincy jones
  • Mudhoney
  • Pearl Jam
  • Soundgarden 
  • Alice in Chains
  • The Wailers
  • Foo Fighters
  • Mad Season (look them up you won’t be disappointed. A “grunge supergroup” who flew high for a moment and smashed into pieces like so many before and after)
  • Mark Lanegan (the best voice in rock today)
  • Screaming Trees (see above)

And of course the seminal and stellar Nirvana. RIP Kurt.

MoPop have little currently on Grunge. A great pity as this is what I crave. To rub salt into the wounds of disappointment, I can’t get into the walking tour on grunge: “Stalking Seattle”, as it is booked solid. I make do with the frequent sounds seeping through market places, pubs and clubs…..sweet.

MoPop compensates with standing and featured displays, anchored around a large auditorium, kitted out to feel like your at a concert. The two featured exhibits which take my eye and steal my heart are on artists who have always captured and then transported: Bowie and Jimi.

The rock and roll lifestyle has so many casualties. The roads to stardom are littered with the twisted spirits, minds and bodies of those who aspired and those who conquered- even for a moment and in a part.

Jimi’s shadow is very long. He died way back in 1970! Another of the cultural phenomena of the 27 Club- musos who met untimely deaths due to drugs, alcohol and/or violence. Kurt  is also a payed up member. The fact that Jimi (and Kurt for that matter) got that far is quite remarkable given the pressures of his chosen lifestyle.

The MoPop’s exhibit tracks Jimi’s steep ascendancy and ultimate (inevitable?) demise.

He came from an impoverished broken home- he was an African American. Yet at his height, Jimi performed 500 times in 15 countries and recorded 130 songs in 16 studios. A musical gypsy, his life was an endless series of concerts, recording sessions, flights and hotels. On a MoPop information board, it advises: ” home was the roar of the crowd, the controlled chaos of recording studio, the first class cabin of a TWA jet, the key to his hotel room, the brief times with friends and lovers….the electric embrace of his guitar.”

Words fitting a (another) tragic premature loss of a legend.

The Hassle of the Hustle 

We are in America. Obviously, as this story indicates.

We trudge into C and L’s time-share in the quaint Walmart Camlin. They have generously “surrendered points” to allow our visit.  It is late (11:30 pm), we are greeted by painted smiles, navigating the bureaucracy of being a “valued guest of an owner” and before we try to escape to a welcomed bed are advised: “tomorrow be sure to check in to that desk to receive your welcome pack” the latter sounding a sinister portend to tired brains.

We awake keen on getting some simple advice on directions to The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) and internet access.

We are greeted (accosted really) by David. He is our very newest best friend, “your very personal valet!” More warning signs. This time with more alert brains of time poor, but focused, travellers.

David profers in rapid delivery, with a painted smile and the authenticity of Trump social policy:

“I am here to save you so much money”

“My wife and I eat here” ” my son and I have been here 5 times”. He desires to share the personal 

He tries to connect through sympathy: “I go here and I order….. this is affordable on my wage. It is great value for you.”

“You simply must go there. It is simply a must.” He pushes and pushes

“Please show me a photo of your smiling faces when you go here.”

“Look at all these places  I have discounts. Just for you.”

He tries to connect culturally. Repeatedly saying: “please give me one of your gorgeous little Kangaroos”

All this and more (where are the steak knives?)

Machine gun delivery, sparkling eyes covering up a hollow countenance, repitious delivery masking any  sense of empathy or service. No truck given to interruption. His delivery the only game. Our roles simply as trapped consumers, blinded by his brilliance. Our interests being his soul objective.

We are polite, but increasingly firm: “thanks David, but we have a program, can you simply point us to MoPop and how to get Internet?”

Our bestie is not put off: “I’d like to offer you complementary breakfast or lunch. When is this convenient?”

We persist.

Then comes the ultimate in hustle over service: all of this goes with your one and one half hour opportunity to hear the benefits of Walmart time-share.” With a flourish, he swings out a pen and smiles the smile of the black hearted paid assassin: “now when can I sign you in?”.

We swiftly disentangle ourselves of our artificial, specious and contrived “friend”. His twinkling eyes quickly transforming into dark chasms of disappointment in a sale forgone………a “mark” escaping.

We leave thankful of both the real friends we have and coming from a less bumptious and intrusive sales culture.

Travelogue to The House of Saud

The bastard bug holds on, but diminishes in kick, content in its new manifestation in the second couple of Canadians- Chris and Lynn. This was not the sharing we invisaged. They comment on our farewells at the Victoria Docks, that they have never been so afflicted. We bid adieu, apologising profusely and thanking them for their generous hospitality.

A quick recap:

Picked up in Vancouver by C and L, we are transported to the Capillarno bridge. This is a suspension bridge linking two sides of a river. Traversing it brings out intense fear of heights. This is breathtaking, a welcome change from the breath being stolen by the bastard bug.
We make our way over beautiful mountains to Squamish lands. Love the language of the First Nations (this is the politically correct address). As indicated previously festering sores still exist between these peoples, the settlers (essentially whites) and more recent immigrants. On reflection, I’d say the Canadians are quite a deal in advance of Aus, but stalled in an tropical low. I will view future developments with interest.

Through the haze graciously granted by the bastard bug we ascend from “sea to sky” in a gondola past the granite outcrop of the “Chief”: a vertical cliff face popular with those intent on climbing and avoiding falling. A short 1-3 k walk at the top brings spectacular views and hacking coughs.

Off to Whistler, the fabled playground of the rich and foolhardy (lots of ways for adrenaline junkies to meet their end). We are housed in C and L’ s time share- more of that in a later post. This is a very beautiful, but very expensive world. Our hosts book us the “Peak to Peak” experience. We are suspended between the Whistler and Blackcombe mountains. The longest and highest gondola ride in the world. Not a good time to be in touch with my Acrophobia. Still exhilarating, with staggering beauty. On top of the world (bug permitting). 

Two days of hedonism, heights and hacking.

Off to Nanaimo and Victoria (Vancouver Island). Another playground for the rich and famous. Our hosts hell bent on giving us the richest Canadian experience possible! This is the Canadian Riviera. Good food, good museum, good climate, good environs generally and the relentless pursuit of the perfect Stout (although my drinking companion puts up the white flag a consequence of advanced bug ingestion).  

At the Victoria Docks we board a ferry for Seattle. The ferry is late and jam packed- this is holiday season. Canadians have a a very finite and short summer and they are out in force wherever we go, continually apologising as they weave through the mass of humanity. There are simply no  spare seats on the ferry. We share our space with a family from Saudi Arabia. A father, mother and two Twenty year plus daughters. All women wear the Hijab. Mom’s eyes cast down, girls retain direct and curious gaze. Dad, whilst a little territorial, remains open and warm throughout.

I have never met anyone from the House of Saud. I know little: oil, rich, a closed country, women subservient (can’t drive, no voting rights), an export market for our camels, militarily strong, dances with the devil (Trump), exporter of a brand of Islam, increasingly active in world affairs and home of one Osama B L. A wonderful opportunity is presented.
I tread carefully, but probably unnecessarily.

I learn:

  • This is a high performing family: Dad has masters Quals and is a retired exec of Saudi hospital, sons are pilot and Civil engineer (both in America) and daughters studying at highly rated Uni of Seattle in Arts and PhD programs
  • Saudis are subsiding all tuition costs: “we value education”. A return is expected on the country’s investment, but this is not strictly enforced
  • The Girls love America and Americans. Their “although pity the government” is offered without a hint of being censured, but with a load of rancour. 
  • The girls engage openly throughout the nearly 3 hour journey
  • Mum is mute throughout
  • Dad and girls are interested in Aus
  • Dad and I exchange contact details (I invite him to Aus)

An otherwise tedious journey is so much richer for the contact

Travel- you gotta love it.

The Gentle Man from Chicago

Deb has been to the Doctors (again). She is furnished with antibiotics for a week and two puffers. We have a heightened awareness and deep empathy for Asthmatics. 

We catch the quaint False Creek ferry/water taxi to Granville Island (GI). These little cuties are shaped like a bath tub, are not that much bigger and turn on a dime…that should be a Loonie, Canadian for $2. Carrying around 10 souls, these little cuties ply their trade around the beautiful waters of Vancouver, sorrounded by the high rise palaces of the beautiful set (money buys surgery, cosmetics, clothes and  good PR).

GI is an old industrial site that became the refuge of artists, quickly followed by a Mecca for tourists. An enormous operating concrete factory remains. It’s giant silos casting metaphysical (historic) and real shadows across the island. Rather than jarring with the colour, culture and smells of the new GI, the old sites’, smells and sounds somehow nestle in. A triumph of serendipitous planning and people’s ability to accept diversity- to chew gum and walk simultaneously. 

We seek shelter from the madding crowd in the wonderful GI boutique Brewery. Seems our herd has responded to the same call and tries to escape the throngs of humanity in the same place at the same time. A Porter/Stout proving ready sanctuary…. peace has become us. 

Cheek by jowel we shuffle across on hard wooden benches. We greet a mild, quietly spoken middle aged couple of Indian heritage who live in Chicago. They are particularly time poor, having to rendezvous with their tour very soon. They gulp their beers and food (graciously offering us some pub grub). We exchange the usual safe haven of pleasantries related to travel and home. This warm, kind faced gent suggests a quick tour of his lands, including Chicago, NY and finally Washington (DC). He concludes sheepishly and self consciously: “obviously no reference to politics”.

Au contraire, this is an obvious opening (to me at least). Mindful of time limitations, I get straight to it and counter: ” are you worried about being isolated?”

There is this simply wonderful pause…….he reflects, eyes upwards, appraises, eyes darting across my face and then seems to overcome natural reserve with an urgent appreciation of both his time limitations and the importance of the subject matter. This seems to open the flood gates, a trickle becomes a flood, the glacier melts to form a rabid river. 

“We are already isolated from the world. This has simply occurred at a scary pace.” He sadly advises.


The coiffured man remains nameless just like Harry Potters’ Vodermort. As if to name them brings forth their power. The similarity doesn’t stop there, they share characteristics of: vengefulness, power, viciousness, venomous, controlling, self centred, desperate Dark Lords.

“….has isolated us internaly. Bad people have and will continue to take advantage of this”

This quiet and sincere man then leans forward and gently reaches for my arm and imploringly adds:

“People don’t know that history has seen His type before……. This never ends well.”

My only encouragement has been knowing nods. My only utterance:

“The stupid people who don’t read, don’t understand history, reject the knowledge and wisdom in science and operate on the basis of irrational and selfish fear have elected a psychopath. They have put us all at peril.”

This decent, reserved and worried man finally warmly shakes my hand. His parting words:

“I am so sorry to have to go. I have so enjoyed our conversation. Take very good care.”

May the murmurs of the meek drown out the terrors of the tweek of the twat that is Trump (and all his stupid acolytes).

I retreat to the GI distillery in search of a different spirit. One nonetheless similarly refined, warm and so very welcomed.